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Baker, James (19 December 1818–15 May 1898), trapper, army scout, and early settler of Colorado and Wyoming, was born in Belleville, Illinois, and grew up near Springfield. His parents were of Scots-Irish ancestry from South Carolina. With little formal schooling but adept with a rifle, Jim Baker left home for St. Louis in 1838 and signed an eighteen-month contract with the American Fur Company. On 25 May 1838 the Rocky Mountain–bound party, led by ...

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Bent, Charles (11 November 1799–19 January 1847), frontiersman, fur trapper, and Santa Fe trader, was born in Charleston, Virginia (now W.V.), the son of Silas Bent, Jr., a surveyor and jurist, and Martha Kerr. The family moved first to Ohio, then in 1806 to St. Louis, Missouri. Charles attended Jefferson College in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, although for how long is unknown. In 1822 he joined the Missouri Fur Company of Joshua Pilcher as a clerk, and in 1825 he became a partner. The American Fur Company of ...

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Kit Carson. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-107570).

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Carson, Kit (24 December 1809–23 May 1868), mountain man, army officer, and Indian agent, was born Christopher Houston Carson in Madison County, Kentucky, the son of Lindsey Carson, a farmer and revolutionary war veteran, and Rebecca Robinson. In 1811 Lindsey Carson moved his family to Howard County, Missouri, to find “elbow room.” He died in 1818, hit by a falling limb while clearing timber from his land. Christopher enjoyed no schooling and never learned to read or write, other than signing his name to documents. In 1825 his mother and stepfather apprenticed him to David Workman, a Franklin, Missouri, saddler whom Kit described as a kind and good man. Nevertheless, he ran away because he found saddlemaking tedious and distasteful work and yearned to travel. Following in the footsteps of a brother and a half-brother who were in the Santa Fe trade, Carson joined a caravan as a “cavvy boy” (an assistant to the wrangler in charge of the horse and mule herd). Though not unsympathetic, Workman was obliged by law to advertise for his runaway. But he misleadingly suggested to readers of the ...

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Glass, Hugh (?–1833), fur trapper., was a Few facts are known for certain about his early life. His place of birth is unknown. According to the historian and novelist James Hall, who published an account of Glass in Port Folio (Mar. 1825), Glass was of Irish ancestry. The fine literary quality of the only known communication from his pen, written in 1823, permits the conclusion that he was reasonably well educated. His early years have become the stuff of legend. According to reminiscences of a fellow fur trapper named ...

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Gratiot, Charles (1752–20 April 1817), frontier trader, was born in Lausanne, Switzerland, the son of David Gratiot and Marie Bernard, French Huguenot merchants. Educated in schools in Lausanne, Gratiot, at age seventeen, went to London to work with his mother’s brother, a merchant, who then had him sent to Montreal, Canada. Arriving at Montreal in May 1769, Gratiot began working as a clerk in his uncle’s office to learn the Indian trade in the Great Lakes region, which, though now under British sovereignty, continued to be controlled by French traders. In 1774 he went on a successful trading expedition for his uncle into the Illinois country but, on being less successful on a second venture of his own, established in 1777 a partnership with David McCrae, a Scottish trader in Montreal....

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Hunt, John Wesley ( August 1773–21 August 1849), pioneer merchant, manufacturer, and financier, was born in Trenton, New Jersey, the son of Abraham Hunt, a merchant, and Theodosia Pearson. Growing up with seven siblings, John probably attended a private school. At a young age he began training in business in his father’s general store in the same two-story building as their home in Trenton. His father also taught him about breeding racehorses and about flour milling....

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Smith, Jedediah Strong (6 Jan. 1799?–27 May 1831), fur trader and explorer, was born (some say on 24 June 1798) in Bainbridge, Chenango County, New York, the son of Jedediah Smith, probably a farmer and possibly a part-time tailor. His mother’s name is unrecorded. Raised and educated in elementary schools in Pennsylvania and Ohio, young Smith became a clerk on a Lake Erie trading vessel. In 1822 he joined the fur-trading venture of General ...

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Wolfskill, William (20 March 1798–03 October 1866), frontiersman, trader, and rancher, was born in Boonesborough, Madison County, Kentucky, the son of Joseph Wolfskill, Jr., and Sarah Reid, farmers. In late 1809 the family moved to Boone’s Lick, Howard County, Missouri. William was sent back to Kentucky in 1815 to attend school for two years and then returned to Missouri, where he remained. In May 1822 he joined William Becknell’s second Santa Fe trade expedition. In New Mexico, Wolfskill and fellow Kentuckian ...